Starkey: Ex-Steelers QB Hanratty one of a kind
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Did you happen to see the gray-haired gentleman who announced the Steelers' second-round pick Friday?
That was Terry Hanratty, a long-ago second-round pick of the Steelers who went to the podium at Radio City Music Hall with no illusions as to what younger fans might think.
“They're going to say, ‘Who the hell is that guy?' ” Hanratty said.
You might know that Hanratty, a Butler native, was Terry Bradshaw's backup for a time. You might not know that he is the only person on Earth who can put all of these items atop a resume:
• Appeared on covers of Time and Sports Illustrated (both in 1966 when he played at Notre Dame — and he still receives a half-dozen laminated copies each week from autograph seekers).
• Quarterbacked Notre Dame to a national championship.
• Played on some of the best NFL teams of all time and probably the worst.
• Guested on Johnny Carson.
• Had a front-row seat to maybe the greatest sports comeback of all time.
We'll get to all that. First, let Hanratty take us backstage Friday, where old-timers such as himself, Curley Culp and Ken Riley were sweating out their TV appearances. They feared getting a hard-to-pronounce name. Nobody wanted the next Nnamdi Asomugha.
Hanratty was relieved, believe or not, to be handed a card with the name “Stephon (Stuh-FON) Tuitt” on it. Hanratty's son, Conor, is an offensive lineman at Notre Dame and a friend of Tuitt's.
“Stephon is a really good kid,” Hanratty said. “He'll be perfect for the Steelers.”
I should probably be writing about Tuitt in this space or pretending I know something about Martavis Bryant. But my conversation with Hanratty was so memorable that it won the day. The man is a fountain of stories both poignant and funny. He literally sounded like Rodney Dangerfield over the phone. Similar cadence. Similar sense of comedic timing:
• On rooming with Bradshaw: “It wasn't a pretty face to wake up to, I'll tell you that.”
• On the late Joe Gilliam, who initially won the Steelers' famous 1974 quarterback derby but didn't like to call running plays: “I used to tell Joe, ‘You have to incorporate the running game.' Well, he used to call me ‘Biggie Rat' after an old cartoon character, and he'd tell me, ‘Biggie, Joe Gilly's here to throw the ball.' ”
• On Jack Lambert: “I'd come to the line of scrimmage in practice, running the other team's plays. I'd blow him a kiss. He's all fired up, legs pumping. One day he yelled to Chuck Noll, ‘Chuck, Hanratty just blew me a kiss!' The whole place went silent, then roared. Then Lambert realized what he'd yelled.”
• On a 42-0 loss to the Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium, when Hanratty and Steve Spurrier were quarterbacking the winless 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: “At the pregame meal, (somebody) said, ‘I don't know why we're here. We should have saved the money and called in the score.' ”
Hanratty was honored when Steelers president Art Rooney II invited him to announce the second-round pick. It seemed right to have a '70s connection, given the death of legendary personnel man Bill Nunn Jr. two days earlier.
“I knew Bill very well,” Hanratty said. “He was just a classy, classy individual. You could put a lot of the Steelers' success on Bill Nunn's shoulders.”
And that comeback story I mentioned? Hanratty and Rocky Bleier were teammates on Notre Dame's 1966 national championship team. They reunited with the Steelers after Bleier's lower right leg had been badly injured in Vietnam.
“When Rocky came back, he stayed with (Hanratty's family), and we worked out together,” Hanratty said. “I'd say, ‘Rock, why are you doing this to yourself? The Rooneys said they would pay for law school. Go.' He'd say, ‘No, no, I wanna do this.'
“If someone would have said he'd run for a thousand yards in the pros, I would have taken that bet over and over again because I saw him limping over and over again trying to run 5 yards.”
Hanratty, 66, is a pretty good comeback story himself. Alcoholism brought him to his knees in 1985. He spent 30 days in rehab and says he has been sober since. He'd been living a high-stakes, high-pressure life on Wall Street (he now works independently with high-end hedge funds).
Hanratty resides in New Canaan, Conn., with his second wife, Kelly, and daughter Erin.
Does he ever wonder how his career might have played out in a different city?
“I've gotten over that wondering phase,” Hanratty said. “Everybody wants to start, but you gave it your best shot. What else can you say?”
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at email@example.com.
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